more translation than self-expression

I hate the idea of revision being a lessening of some original insight. Most original insights are unoriginal, of course, and this is something I see less of as my “peer group” of poets is maturing along with me. Revision (shared revision) isn’t about dulling the edges of the bright, shiny, ax of your brilliance, it’s about pushing the self-expressive source of a poem forward towards its end goal of person-to-person communication. A poem is more an act of translation than an act of self-expression, anyway. Translation is a social gesture, so it benefits from the attentive, patient, eye of another person.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, answering Kevin Spenst's editing questions over at his Poetic Edits blog. You can read the whole post here.


daniela elza said...

"Most original insights are unoriginal"?
I do not know why this sets off my "sweeping generalizations" radar.
I might need further elaboration on this quotable quote that I see from time to time pop up. I am really trying to understand it. Who is the upright judge?

Is there something we really have not unpacked here?

And if for a moment we decide to agree on this dismissive generalization, why, then, does one write?
I have managed to work my way around the "original sin" bit, still trying to figure this one out.

Translation. Yes, right on. But social? Eventually, perhaps. Who is translating? Who lines up the words on the page? Before the translation flows into the veins of the social circulation system?

And if the translator subscribes to "most original insight is unoriginal", why bother translating? How long do we give an "original insight" before we decide it is "unoriginal", and for whom. Oh, my, is language putting words in our mouths. Who is talking here?

And yes, the attentive patient eye of another person is a definite bonus. Always.

Ok, end of playful intermission. Now we return you back to the play.

Rob Taylor said...

Maybe this quote can help fill the gap between your perspective and Jake's, Daniela:

"It is often said that we read so-called “intellectual” poetry for its style rather than its content; anthologists and instructors assure us that Pope’s Essay on Man contains not a single fresh idea; that its saving feature is the vigor and grace with which it expresses old ones. Such a false division between form and content presupposes two boxes, one of which contains old hashed-over idea which everyone assimilated years ago, and from which the poet takes whatever he needs to “stuff” his poem; and the other, brand-new, unthought of ideas, to which the philosopher resorts when seeking inspiration. But there are no new ideas, any more than there are any old ones; there are merely old and new ways of looking at the world. Every new poem is a fresh discovery, and Pope stands acquitted on the charge of commonplace subject matter; “what oft was thought but n’er so well expressed” might as well be what n’er was thought for those who, but for the poet, might have understood the idea but not been able to apply it within their realm of experience."

- John Ashbery, as quoted on Don Share's blog.

It's the Matryoshka Doll of quote posts!

daniela elza said...

I think it might be a matter of degrees. Perhaps the genius lies in the way one might anchor into the readers mind with something familiar and build on it, making it feel new and fresh. Isn't that where the connection happens? Something the reader recognizes as that which they have not managed to articulate, yet wish they did. Aren't those the moments that lift off the page.

Jake himself says a few lines later: "it’s about pushing the self-expressive source of a poem forward towards its end goal of person-to-person communication"